I don’t know about you, but there’s at least a backpack’s worth of necessities I take on every trip I make.
Between the laptop, iPod, cell phone, newest T.C. Boyle novel and toothbrush, my bag fills up pretty quickly. However, astronauts do not have the same luxury of size or weight for their personal effects when they go for a ride on the space shuttle.
One repository for personal effects is the Personal Preference Kit, about the size of a long paperback novel. NASA allows astronauts to take up to 20 items that weigh no more than 1.5 pounds in this small nylon case.
More recently, iPods have become a commonplace item to bring to space, as they contain music, photos, movies and electronic books that would otherwise take up more space. The media players are flown separately under the aegis of Crew Personal Items.
However, there is one problem with the standard iPod: batteries. They are not certified for use in space, according to ABCNews.com. So, NASA equips iPods with a converter that uses AA batteries.
There is another avenue for astronauts to fly souvenirs for their schools and supporting organizations: the Official Flight Kit. Logging in at only two cubic feet, or about the size of a milk crate, astronauts have to select the tokens to be stowed in this kit carefully.
On an average shuttle mission, about half of the items in the Official Flight Kit are there on NASA public relation business, while the remaining items are for various groups that ask the astronauts to bring a token on their behalf. The items are then returned after the trip.
Past missions have taken an assortment of flags, pins and commemorative patches to space. Some of the more notable objects are a piece of the Wright brothers’ original aircraft, a 1611 lead cargo tag from Jamestown colony, Luke Skywalker’s lightsaber prop from "Star Wars: The Return of the Jedi" and a conductor’s baton for the Boston Pops Orchestra.
The first astronauts also had Personal Preference Kits for their missions. Every once in a while, items from their contents or the pouch itself will turn up in an auction.
In 1971, the members of the Apollo 15 mission ferried Alumni Chapter Papers to the moon for the University of Michigan, which is the only school to claim the distinction of having a lunar branch.
Some of the more famous space trinkets are Mercury Dimes that were lost when the hatch on the capsule blew upon landing. The dimes and capsule sank to the bottom of the Atlantic – deeper than the Titanic. In 1999, divers recovered the craft, and seven of the dimes are now on display at the Kansas Cosmosphere and Space Center in Hutchinson, Kan.
This February’s Atlantis shuttle mission to the International Space Station carried three NASCAR starter flags to space to celebrate the 50th anniversary of both the race and NASA itself. The first flag will soon be awarded to Ryan Newman, the winner of this year’s Daytona 500; the second will be displayed in the Daytona racetrack museum and NASA will keep the third.
The current mission of the space shuttle Endeavor, set to land Wednesday, March 26, will return with a similar assortment of new space paraphernalia. Astronaut Bob Behnken has a set of wedding rings for his impending nuptials. According to collectSPACE.com, the pilot Greg Johnson is carrying the title page for the play "Expedition 6" by actor Bill Pullman, who wrote about the experiences of the sixth International Space Station crew that had to lengthen its stay by two months after the Columbia disaster.
The parade of odds and ends making its way to space does not seem to be stopping anytime soon. While NASA continues to send the space shuttle to supply the International Space Station , astronauts will continue to bring mementos in both kits. Some of the other soon-to-be space artifacts in this mission’s Official Flight Kit are 100 silver Snoopy pins, a marine mammal poster and a vial of dirt from the pitcher’s mound at Yankee Stadium.
This answer is provided by Scienceline, a project of New York University's Science, Health and Environmental Reporting Program.